Unlike last year’s session where the afternoon had random agenda items, this year’s “special” fireworks discussion got right off to a start just after 1:30.
The auditorium was full with anticipation as Elder Ted Wilson took the chair to preside along with one of the GC Vice Presidents, Tom Lemon. Yet like every good GC meeting, it had to begin with a hymn. Elder Wilson led those assembled (delegates, invitees and guests) in “Never Part Again.” Depending on the outcome of the afternoon, one had to wonder whether for some the “never” part was about to hold true.
After the hymn, Elder Wilson gave the ground rules: Relax, no “official” breaks, final vote by secret ballot, no applause and only executive committee members could vote. Unlike last year where the document was present and discussed (or “leaked” in Elder Wilson’s parlance) beforehand, the delegates did not have the document at the start. Instead, the first job was to decide on timing. While some delegates tried to pass a motion to give speakers 3 minutes (as opposed to the usual 2 minutes), it failed 114-163. The delegates also tried to vote a time to end discussion, but this didn’t receive the required vote and so the ending time was left open-ended (a hint of the exhaustion and chaos to come).
With the voting process decided, Tom Lemon then spoke as the chair of the “Unity and Mission Oversight Committee.” He shared how the GC has dialogued with non-compliant divisions and worked on helping them return to compliance. Lemon made clear to stress that all the divisions are strong in their unity of the mission and that their disagreement was not rebellion. He then hinted about a document to come that had been worked out between the Division Officers of the GC.
Dan Jackson, NAD President, then jumped in to explain and insist the discussion and document was not about women’s ordination but rather dealt with ALL policy violations. Elder Wilson echoed this point, Though GC Secretary GT Ng, later admitted that the discussion was triggered by women’s ordination. With that, the much-anticipated document was handed out.
It took a while to get through the 14 pages of GC-legalese, which was even read from the front publicly by Hensley Moorooven, GC Associate Secretary. Titled Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence In Church Governance, the document essentially lays out that when there are issues of non-compliance, General Conference Executive Committee members need to support the global church even if they have personal disagreements. The document then laid out penalties for advocating for non-compliance such as forfeiting committee member privileges, called for all members to sign a statement agreeing to abide by the working policy and then provided for a Matthew 18 process to help those dealing with non-compliance. It also called for constituencies to use their own procedures to remove non-compliant leaders.
After hearing from the GC leaders, GT Ng & Juan Prestol about the need for the document, Prestol admitted he supports and has voted for women’s ordination but the unity of the church must be stronger than his personal convictions. With that, the floodgates were opened.
The vast majority of those who spoke on the document did so in opposition. Mark Johnson from the NAD criticized the timing noting that the session was trying to approve a document that had not been previously been read. He also attacked the “loyalty pledge” as swearing allegiance to someone other than God. Lowell Cooper from the GC also attacked the document as being against the Constitution and stifling the expression of dissent. Randy Roberts, also of the NAD, made reference to rumors about shenanigans behind the scenes in the lead up to the document which Elder Wilson helpfully clarified.
Some of the European delegates made eerie references to the signing statement as being like a Nazi/Communist loyalty pledge. Elder Wilson replied that the signing statement is simply codifying what is already practice. Robert Sjolander, President of Swedish Union, which has discontinued ordination for all genders, argued that women’s ordination is necessary because in his country “People walk away when they find the church treats men and women differently.” One wonders what he would say when asked about the church’s different treatment of heterosexual and homosexual individuals.
The NAD also got into the action with Tom Evans accusing Elder Wilson and supporters of the document as being McCarthyists and encouraged all present to google what that means. Alex Bryant meanwhile pushed back on the idea that voting against the document means voting against compliance with church policy. Gary Thurber, President of the Mid-America Union noted that even if he wanted to support the document his own executive committee would be strongly opposed.
A few brave voices spoke in support of unity and moving forward. Justine Ramas of SSD said she supported the document because as a parent it is important that policy is not “selectively” obeyed. Another woman, Kathryn Proffit of the GC said she fully supports women in ministry, but on the issue of ordination, the church had spoken and it was time to carry out the will of the global body of believers. Elder Mark Finley, often seen as a key neutral arbiter in these kind of discussions noted that pre-San Antonio he might have voted differently but at this point, the church needs to unite around common policy and structure. Elder Finley noted that it would be hypocritical of him to tell independent ministries not to take tithe (non-compliance) while allow non-compliance in other areas.
Suranjeen Pallipamula, a delegate from SUD, then noted that while he wasn’t opposed to the document, he was didn’t like the wording that punished “advocacy” of positions contrary to the GC. He then suggested changing it to “works on.” This led to a discussion to reward where even good traditionalists like Clinton Wahlen of the GC signed on to. Others offered support as well and very quickly a nearly unanimous vote was held changing the wording from “advocate” to “works in opposition to”.
After more discussion, Dave Weigley, the Columbia Union President, spoke as the “troubler in Israel.” He argued that the GC should be using an Acts 15 model and then made a motion to refer the document to the Constitution & Bylaws Committee based on his view that the document violated the Constitution.
This led to a discussion that basically lasted the entirety of the afternoon (and evening) whereby motions and amendments were made to refer the document to someplace other than an approval vote (such as the original committee). Elder Wilson jumped in at times to explain that other options were on the table such as the “nuclear” option, where the GC could disband local rebellious units, but that he thought this was the most compassionate method.
Yet, in the end, the process bogged down and got so confusing that it seems those in the auditorium were exhausted and simply wanted to vote. After a few preliminary votes, a final vote was held to refer the document back to the Unity and Mission Oversight Committee. As was explained to all present, by voting yes on this action, the delegates would essentially be delaying any action until next year’s annual council 2018 in Battle Creek.
The worn out delegates seemed not to care and by a vote of 184 to 113 kicked the can down the road, allowing for non-compliance (or some might say rebellion) to continue a little longer.
Jason Miller received his Law degree from C.U.A. and resides in Michigan.